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FESTIVAL OF THE GREAT MOTHER

DURGA PUJA




Devi Durga is a Hindu goddess who is worshipped as an embodiment of creative feminine force
or Shakti, believed to be the fierce form of Lord Shivas wife Parvati. She is the Mother of the
Universe, revered for both her gracious as well as her terrifying form.


Originally held in the Bengali season basant (spring), Durga Puja was called Basanti Puja. It is
said that later, Lord Shri Ramchandra, through his devotion, invoked the Goddess Durga to
descend on Earth during autumnand bless him so he would be victorious over Ravana. Since
then, Shri Ramchandras Akalbodhan (untimely worship) of the Goddess became more popular.


At present, Durga Puja in Bengal is a public festival whereas in earlier times it was mainly a
family festival, which was observed with great pomp and show by the Bengali elite. In October
1757, Durga Puja was held with unimaginable grandeur for the first time, by Raja Nabakrishna
Deb Bahadur, in his newly built Thakurdalan, inside the famous palace at Shovabazar in
present day Kolkata. Prior to this, the old city of Kolkata that then comprised of the three
villages of Sutanuti, Govindapur and Kolkata had never experienced Durga Puja on such a
scale.the Maharaja invited both commoners and dignitaries alike, to attend the puja.


Today, even amidst the restoration work being carried out at Shovabazar Rajbati, the over 250-
year-old Durga Puja is still being held by the descendants of the family in the historic
Thakurdalan on the lines of its age-old-legacy, attracting thousands of devotees. The dazzling
image of Devi Durga has remained unchanged through time as the same ancestral moulds are
still being used.




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Sarbojonin Durga Puja


Durga is generally believed to be surrounded by her four children but distinguished researcher
in Indian Culture, Dr. Pritimadhav Rai provides us with another view. He argues that, in
essence, Lord Ganesha, Lord Kartik, Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Laxmi are not Goddess
Durgas children but her attributes. According to Vedic Chants, one addresses Goddess Durga as
vidyangdehi (one who bestows knowledge) and jasodehi (one who bestows success and
prosperity). She is Maa rupena samasthita (the Divine Goddess who resides in all existence in
the form of the Universal Mother), Shakti rupena samasthita (the Divine Goddess who resides
in all existence in the form of energy) and Laxmi rupena samasthita (the Divine Goddess who
resides in all existence in the form of wealth). Devotees pursuing distinct profession started
worshipping specific attributes of the Divine Goddess for their convenience and over the years
the attributes of knowledge, success, wealth and valour took the form of Goddess Saraswati,
Lord Ganesha, Goddess Laxmi and Lord Kartik respectively.


The colour of the images of gods and goddesses are in keeping with their description in the
Chandipath (the Story of Chandi or Goddess Durga). It is interesting to note that Goddesses
Saraswati, symbolic of the one and only quality of Vidya pure knowledge which is
unadulterated, is shwet or white complexioned. In opposition, Goddess Durga, an embodiment
of the three qualities of satwa (inactivity), rajas (activity) and tamas (non activity) has a bright
yellow complexion.


An important ritual of Durga Puja is the Nabapatrika Snan (the bathing of the nine agricultural
produces) on the dawn of Mahashaptami. On the ghats of River Hugli, one is greeted by the
quaint sight of priests dipping in the river, holding the auspicious banana tree. After this, the
banana tree is worshipped with nine agricultural produces and amid the fragrance of incense
sticks and resounding bells and conches, the banana tree is draped in the traditional Bengali
white sari with a red border, making it look like a new bride. The tree, also considered to
represent Lord Ganeshas wife, Kolabou (the banana wife), is symbolic of the agricultural cult
that helps man to thrive.


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Durga Pandal Decoration Durga Pandal


Alongside Kolabou, the priests also install the mangalghot (auspicious earthen pot), by filling it
with the water from the river and then worshipping it with mango leaves, vermillion and a
tender coconut a symbol of fertility. Later, the Kolabou and the Mangalghot are installed
alongside the idol of Goddess Durga. The Mangalghot is further decorated with sankha and pola
(bangles worn by married Bengali women). It is believed that the mangalghot is where Goddess
Durga resides during the four days of the puja and her being is symbolically bound by tying
threads around the mangalghot.


Durga Puja - Priest Blowing a Conch before the Puja


Whereas the oldest Durga Pujas of Kolkata are about three hundred years old, it is only at
Serampore, 20kms away from Kolkata, on the banks of River Hugli, that one can still witness
traditional Durga Pujas that are more than five hundred years old. Shri Lal Gopal Panchanan
had started one of the oldest pujas of Serampore at his residence, way back in the 16
th
century
CE and ever since, it is being observed here (for ten generations now). Known as the Deshguru
Bhattacharya Puja in Serampore, this house is the maternal home of the great Indian reformer
Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Only the eldest male of the family is allowed to perform the puja,
emphasizes Pinaki Bhattacharya, who, along with his elder brother Shibo Prasad Bhattacharya,
currently continues the tradition. He further adds that the wooden kathamo (framework), on

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which the idol of the Goddess is built, is never immersed. As part of the family tradition, the
frame is taken out after visarjan (immersion) and used in the coming year.



Lit Oil Lamps for the Puja


Though Durga Puja starts from Mahasashti, at the Serampore Goswami familys Puratan Batis
(Old House) Buri Durga Puja, Durga is worshipped in the triple layered Thakurdalan right from
the day after Mahalaya. The Goswami family members claim their puja to be the oldest of all the
pujas in Bengal to be practiced on the same piece of land for the past more than four hundred
years.

Sitting in front of the ekchala idol of Goddess Durga in the grand Thakurdalan, the seventy year
old Shabyasachi Goswami attributes the pujas lineage to Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhus
principal disciple, Shri Adwaitacharya. In this idol, decorated with traditional dakersaaj, the
faces of the gods and goddesses are humanoid. The frame is unique in its shape, resembling the
auspicious horseshoe with motifs of birds at its borders. Earlier, animal slaughter or bali was
practiced here but now this practice has been replaced by the ceremonial slaughter of gourd.
Being one of the oldest pujas in the locality, several devotees visit, crowding the Thakurdalan, to
offer pushpanjali (offering flowers with folded hands) to Goddess Durga.



Interior of Shimla Bayam Samiti Sarbojonin Durga Puja

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On Vijayadashami, before the immersion of the idols, married women of the house bid farewell
to Goddess Durga through the ritual known as boron. To Bengalis, Devi Durga is a daughter and
the ladies bid her farewell accordingly. Holding a plate of sweets, betel leaf, sindur and a glass of
water, they, one after another, feed the Goddess and her children with sweets and betel leaf and
then make her sip water from the glass. As a symbol of blissful married life, the ladies apply
sindur on her forehead and whisper in her ear asche bochor abar esho, humbly urging Durga to
visit her house with her family again in the coming year. After boron, the women
enthusiastically celebrate sindur khela among themselves in the Thakurdalan.

Just after a two-minute walk from the Puratan Bati, one enters the palace of the later Goswami
Zamindars of Serampore, where Durga Puja has been held with a lot of devotion for over three
hundred and fifty years now. Initially, this palace was the kacharibari (office) of the Goswamis
but after some families started using it as a home; Durga Puja began to be performed here.

Well known today as the Goswami Rajbari of Serampore, the puja here was once believed to be
one of the grandest events in the entire region. People of the village would gather to listen to
kabigaan or watch jatra (theatre) on the days of puja. Though the pomp and show associated
with the puja has subsided today, one can still get a glimpse of the lost glory in the brass
utensils, lamps and enormous traditional wooden dalas (plates) on which bhog (food) is offered
to the Goddess.



Savabazar Rajbari,Kolkata


While most of the familys today struggle to carry on with their pujas, the descendants of the
bonedi (aristrocrat) Deybari of Serampore still hold their two hundred and sixty year old Durga
Puja with the same grandeur. Shri Rupkumar Dey, a descendant of the Dey family explains that
this has been possible by forming a Durga Puja Committee, to organize the event every year. the
traditional ekchala shabeki idol of Goddess Durga is resplendent with gold, silver, pearl
ornaments and silver weaponry and the puja here is carried out following the guidelines of the
familys traditional lalkhata (red notebook), a two hundred and sixty year old decree on how the
puja should be conducted.

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If Durga Puja in Bengal had been restricted only to traditional households of the wealthy, it
would never have attained the popularity and mass appeal that it enjoys today. It is only after
community pujas or Barovari Pujas were organized that Durga Puja moved from the restricted
circle of the bhodrolok (elite) household to the wider sphere of common man and became the
sorbojonin (everyones puja).



Doshmi


Barovari Puja was first started in 1761 at Guptipara, in Hugli, by twelve young men (baro
meaning 12 and yar meaning friends), by accepting chanda or donations from everyone. Today
the opulence and extravaganza of Barovari Durga Puja is unmatched in Kolkata, where more
than three thousand pujas are organized in elaborate pandals (temporary structuresmade of
bamboo and cloth, for venerating the Goddess). Each organization competes with the other in
terms of idol presentation and pandal decoration (fresco painting on the walls and ceilings),
almost making it an art festival. Inside the pandals, there is generally a stage where the giant
sized idols of Goddess Durga and her children are displayed, mostly separately, as opposed to
the traditional ekchala.














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Durga-Puja-Visarjan


At the end of the five days of Durga Puja, when the Devi is finally immersed, devotees look
forward to her return in order to keep alive the eternal power of the Great Mother. And so the
tradition continues, surviving down the ages, offering those who believe solace, inspiration and
five days of undiluted celebration.